The Sailboat is on Fire!

On a sailing tour of the Whitsunday islands, our engine suddenly caught fire! The captain shouted for the fire extinguisher as massive black clouds of smoke filled the sky.

Day 432

It was time for another tour in Airlie Beach – this time, it was on a sailboat. I waited outside of the hotel at 7:00 am but didn’t get picked up. This happened to me before when I was in Broome, and because they didn’t pick me up on time, I missed the tour. I called the tour company, and it turns out they wrote down the wrong hotel. 

The tour company picked me up, and I boarded a beautiful sailboat with 24 people. The sailboat looked regal. It was old but had some updates. It was perfect. There were three male crew members and one girl in her 20s from Europe trying out the crew member job. It was her first day to see if she wanted to do the job full time. 

The crew told us to take our shoes off when getting on the boat so we didn’t ruin the deck. The sailboat had a few cushions on the deck for us to sit on. First, we were each taken below deck to place our bags so they wouldn’t fall off or get wet. The inside was very small, but they were able to prepare food and snacks. 

Before departing, the captain showed us where the life jackets were stored. As he demonstrated how to use the life jacket, he said, “Firstly and most importantly, take off your sunnies (sunglasses) and your hat. Then put it over your head. Then immediately put your sunnies and hat back on. That way, when the chopper from channel seven news comes, you’ll look cool.” 

I sat down on a cushion towards the front of the boat. It was my first time on a sailboat, and it was fantastic to be so close to the water. There was just a short rope railing with a few poles on the edge, so I walked carefully to avoid falling off. 

A couple in their 40s from New South Wales sat next to me and were on holiday. I had taken my vitamins that morning but hadn’t eaten much. I was starting to feel nauseous – a lousy combination considering I also get motion sickness on boats. I told them that I wasn’t feeling well and that I really needed a snack because the vitamins were too harsh on my mostly empty stomach. The woman pulled out a granola bar and gave it to me, which helped. She told me that the hotel they were staying at on a nearby island gave them a snack pack to-go, and I was so grateful! 

Once we were out of the harbor, the boat picked up speed! The water started splashing and pretty much soaked us. The couple moved to another spot that wasn’t getting so much water. I got my jacket from my bag and sat in the middle of the deck. 

It was a beautiful day! The temperature was fantastic – warm but breezy. While sitting in the middle, I talked with a man from Tasmania traveling with his wife. The man is a farmer and grows vegetables, like potatoes. The farm is run by himself, his two sons, and one other man. He told me how it’s backbreaking work. 

I told the farmer that I liked how Australia respected farmers. I saw (and heard) lots of commercials that were showing support for farmers. Australia had a couple of years of drought, and the farmers were feeling it. Lots of groups were donating money to farmers so they could stay afloat. I told the man that we in the U.S. don’t seem to support our farmers and show respect like they do in Australia. I wish we did. Their job is critical. 

We arrived at our first destination – the Whitsundays, 74 tropical islands. Because of the shallowness of the changing tide, we took a small, powered raft to shore. We couldn’t fit many people, so they had to make four trips. 

There was a path going through the forest, including lots of wooden steps. When I reached the viewpoint, I was in awe! I had seen pictures from the brochure but thought maybe it was photoshopped. Nope – it’s really that insanely beautiful! 

The colors were swirls of blue and turquoise. The viewpoint had a few different sections connected, so I walked to one that wasn’t so crowded. Unfortunately, because the tide changes so much, boats have a limited time to take people to the islands. That meant lots of people!

There were a few yellow powered, inflatable boats resting in the water, providing a good scale to compare the area. I looked to my right, and the shallow water was encased in a bay, surrounded by mountains. In front of me, the water met the shore, and people were wadding in it. It looked like a painting with stunning colors swirled with a brush. 

I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I walked down to the beach and had free time. The beach was more extensive than it appeared from above. I walked along, skimming my feet in the one-inch-deep water. It was the most transparent water that I’ve ever seen. Because it was so shallow, it was warm from the sun. When the tide comes in, it covers that whole area.

There were patches of green grass popping up in places, and the sand had wavy lines from the wind. There was a huge fallen, dead tree lying on the beach. People were sitting on the side of it, taking pictures. 

I made it to the water and walked into it. The two-foot deep water seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t get over how soft the sand and how clear the water was. I soaked up the sun and marveled at the beauty. 

I walked across the sandy area to the other side. It took me a while because the sand was so soft. There was only one couple over there, which I preferred. I took pictures and watched the waves in the distance as they broke on the sand. 

It was time to hike back to the shore to get on the inflatable boat. I enjoyed the scenery as much as I could. When we got back on the sailboat, lunch was ready.

I was the last to get food in the inside lower cabin, and we started moving by then. I sat on the deck next to the stairs and cabin area to eat. To my right was the back area of the boat about two feet lower, two benches, and the steering wheel. I was talking to a couple to my left when suddenly, smoke appeared from the engine! 

I was right next to the hatch, and a crew member lifted the lid to an engine, and thick, black smoke rushed out. I could smell it – it was an electrical fire. 

The crew told everyone to move to the front of the bow quickly. Everyone hurried, and the crew lifted another lid to the engine, and more black smoke rushed out. The people sitting on the benches by the steering wheel raced past me to the front. I was the closest to the engine and didn’t know what to do. 

The captain lifted the cushions off the benches near the steering wheel and opened the third lid to the engine. He shouted, “Get me the fire extinguisher!” 

I still had half a plate of food while most people were done eating. I looked at the three compartments with black smoke rushing out and imagined it blowing up. Somehow I was transported to a Die Hard movie. 

I thought about dropping my plate and jumping into the water as the explosion went off, like in the movies. Maybe I could survive in the water. I mentally prepared myself, “You must jump off; it’s going to explode! Shoot, where were those life jackets?” I was too busy paying attention to the funny joke about the sunnies and the news chopper!

I decided against jumping off, but I couldn’t back up much because everyone was behind me. The crew was able to get the fire out with the fire extinguishers, but there was so much smoke coming from our sailboat that another boat came over to check on us. 

Our captain told the other boat that we’d have to use the sails and sail back. Once they left, the captain explained that sailing with only the sails and not having the support of an engine meant we’d likely have to skip snorkeling at the second location. It was going to take hours to get back to shore. Everyone on the boat (traumatized) told the captain just to head back and don’t even try to snorkel. 

The crew manually raised the gigantic sails as the captain said, “Wow, I didn’t realize I’d be sailing the entire way back today.” It was a lot of work to raise the sails manually, and a few passengers even helped. They seemed to stretch to the sky. Thankfully, it was mostly windy outside. 

When the wind caught our sails, we cruised super fast! But it also pushed our boat to one side. When it would tip to my side, I had to put my feet on the small rail and rope to stay on top. I was staring down at the ocean as it raced by. I was inches from it; it was so wild!

Other times, the wind slowed down, and we inched our way, making us all fear that we’d be out there all night. It took us a couple of hours to get out to the Whitsundays with the engine. One time when we were inching along, barely moving, the captain said, “We might be staying the night out here.”

I told people how the engine on a huge boat I was on the day before caught on fire. We were leaving the Great Barrier Reef, and black smoke was coming out of the back. They had to turn off the main engine for over an hour, and we were late getting back. People on this boat (including me) couldn’t believe that I was on two boats back to back that caught fire. What can I say? I’m a magnet for wild experiences! 

I felt tired from the early morning, so I laid back on the deck and took a little nap. I loved being on the sailboat, even if it meant manually sailing. It still felt like the life of the rich and famous to me. 

I woke up and talked to some more people. Then we saw a humpback whale right next to our boat! It swam in front of us and gave a show of his back and tail. That was an unexpected treat!

The girl in training was having quite the “first day,” and handled it like a champ. On schedule, she came around serving appetizers on a platter. I grabbed a plate of cheese and meats, and it also held a small plastic cup of champagne. 

I talked with a couple in their early 30s from Alberta, Canada. Bajan was an engineer and worked at a start-up for the last two years that he started with a friend. They were up to ten employees. Justine was a nurse and was in school to further her education and certifications. They both needed a break and were on vacation. 

I told the couple how much I love Canada and about the time that I spent there. I showed them a funny meme about Canada, and they agreed that it was accurate. The couple was seeing the east coast of Australia over a few weeks. Bajan had spent some time in Asia before arriving in Australia, so we talked about our experiences there. 

The clouds above us were incredible, just like the day prior! It was like one massive section that had a sharp edge. It was almost like a rectangle, and inside of it, there were little squares and waves. I couldn’t believe how defined the clouds were. One section of the sky had no clouds. 

As we got closer to the shore, the sun started to set, reflecting off the clouds and water. Then, we noticed sailboats out in droves. The crew told us there were sailboat races that day. We watched as several sailboats cruised the water in the distance. They lined up perfectly with the sun setting. 

The clouds became colored in orange and red. I didn’t mind that our boat caught fire. I was enjoying the ride. 

When we got close to the harbor, a small, fast, inflatable boat came right up against our sailboat, and the driver connected to our boat to direct us into the small space in the dock. Without an engine, we needed assistance. I was impressed with how well he navigated us. We didn’t even hit the port. 

It took four and a half hours to get back without an engine, which was only about 45 minutes late because we skipped snorkeling. As I gathered my belongings, the owner came to see what was going on with the boat. It sounded like the crew had warned her that the sailboat was old and needed maintenance. Now she was forced to deal with it. I felt terrible, though, because those things are costly. 

It was 5:45 pm, and I was hungry. I ate leftover pizza in my hotel room and then enjoyed the hot tub. I looked at the city lights reflecting off the ocean and soaked up every minute. I had to check out of the resort the next day, and I wish I could have just moved in. 

The next morning, I stopped in the lobby to drop off my key and check out. I was sweating by the time, and I carried all of my bags down three flights of stairs. It was also really humid outside. I talked with the woman at the front who had helped me book tours, Sanja.

I told her about both boat fires. There was a woman refilling brochures, and they were both shocked at my luck. She said she’s never heard of a boat catching fire, and experiencing two back-to-back was insane. I just laughed and said, “It’ll be a good story!”

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3 Responses

  1. The pictures are just spectacular Christy… wow! Wish I were there right now. I’d pass on the sailboat but that yacht looks pretty inviting lol. Were there any box jellyfish in those waters?

    1. Yeah, I could go for being on that yacht right now in the middle of the ocean!
      I’m sure there were jellyfish, but they didn’t say anything. Thankfully, I think it was the season when there’s not many around.

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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